In the weeks leading up to the holidays, eCommerce sales hit their peaks. Between November 2018 and the end of the year, a massive $126 billion was spent online.
Given the massive influx of digital shoppers during this lucrative time of year, it is vital for eCommerce store owners to prepare their sites to handle exponentially more traffic than what they receive during the rest of the year. If a digital store doesn’t run smoothly, it is sure to spell trouble for that brand’s sales and reputation.
Massive sales events like those that take place over the holidays can often make eCommerce websites slow or unresponsive. If this scenario comes to pass and digital storefronts are unable to handle the resulting traffic spike, customers will have a poor experience which will cost merchants lots of money.
In 2014, Best Buy’s website went down on Black Friday because of increased mobile traffic. In 2017, Lowe’s website experienced a similar crash. Both incidents surely cost each brand untold sums of potential revenue.
This is a retailer’s worst nightmare. However, there are a variety of things that eCommerce merchants can do to prepare their eCommerce store for the holiday shopping madness to provide a seamless experience that keeps customers happy and ensures that sales keep moving smoothly.
To make sure that your site achieves peak performance this holiday season, check out these six powerful tips for preparing your eCommerce shop for the seasonal sales stampede.
1. Make Major Changes Now
The holidays are no time to experiment with a new website template or eCommerce provider. If you plan on changing your hosting or migrating to Magento, Shopify or any other eCommerce solution, now is the time to do it, before the holidays are in full swing.
The importance of this cannot be overstated as going live with untested or under-tested site features or support could result in a Christmas catastrophe.
With the increased traffic and sales, your site is poised to receive, technical problems are already a concern. Don’t exacerbate such issues by implementing new features that you are not intimately familiar with.
If you’re going to make changes, do it now and test them out rigorously.
2. Evaluate Your Site Speed
According to KissMetrics, a whopping 47 percent of site visitors expect pages to load within two seconds. Moreover, 79 percent of consumers won’t come back to a website if they weren’t satisfied with their experience. Not only that, of those that refuse to return, 44 percent will share their unfavorable opinion with their friends. With so many new visitors landing on your eCommerce website over the holidays, slow load times are something that merchants cannot afford.
Therefore, increasing website speed is one of the keys to generating a satisfying user experience, increasing website rankings and driving enhanced levels of traffic. The bottom line is that speed can make or break a deal for your brand.
Since holiday shoppers aren’t going to wait around for lagging webpages, it is wise to leverage Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool as it will give you actionable advice on how to increase your site speed. Such insights might include things like optimizing images, clearing the browser cache or enabling compression.
Since site speed is such a massive issue (particularly during the holidays), site owners might also consider utilizing a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to house static website resources onto various services. For the uninitiated, a CDN is defined as:
“…a system of distributed servers that deliver pages and other web content to a user, based on the geographic locations of the user, the origin of the webpage and the content delivery server.”
Additionally, Shopify and BigCommerce users will be glad to know that these platforms provide their users with a CDN, free of charge. However, these are not the only methods for speeding up a site’s performance.
One of the biggest causes of website slow-downs is plugins. Plugins can be a great addition to an eCommerce store, but depending on the quality of the plugin, it could be harming the store’s performance.
There are two ways to sort out any potential issues with plugins.
The first is that you can manually go through the installed plugins to check their statistics and info to identify any that are unnecessary or outdated.
Alternatively, site owners could install the P3 profiler plugin. This plugin tests the performance of the other plugins used on your site to determine their impact on site load times and provides a detailed report overview. This tool can be a great time-saver for busy retailers.
3. Streamline the Checkout Process
Across the industry, abandoned cart rates are nearly 70 percent, according to Baymard Institute. One of the major causes of this phenomenon is extraneous, multi-page checkout processes that frustrate shoppers.
Given that 70 percent is the average abandonment rate, imagine how much this figure increases during the holidays. This means that streamlining the checkout process is of the utmost importance.
To effectively simplify the purchasing procedure, cut out any unnecessary elements and pages, remove form fields that are not required to get a customer their order and institute a guest checkout option as many consumers (especially during the holidays) will simply leave a site that requires account creation to make a purchase.
Along with streamlining your checkout experience, you’ll want to also consider improving the overall customer experience. Explore options with CRMs for ecommerce that plug into your shopping cart and help you learn more about the customer experience while giving you a 360-degree view of their journey.
Recently, Visiture helped Spanx redesign its website using the Magento 2 platform. Through this solution, they were able to reduce the checkout process from five steps to one, thereby increasing the brand’s average order value (AOV) by 28 percent.
A smooth, seamless and swift checkout process can have a colossal impact on the number of sales a store can generate during the holidays.
4. Optimize Your Mobile Experience
Mobile holiday sales have been increasing exponentially year-over-year for the past several years. This upcoming holiday season, that trend will continue as PracticalEcommerce predicts that mobile sales will account for over half of all transactions.
This means that mobile optimization is a critical component of a successful holiday rush for eCommerce merchants.
Prepping your site for the increased holiday traffic (via compression tools, a streamlined checkout process, and other aforementioned strategies) will go a long way for enhancing mobile encounters. However, small screen user experiences (UX) still need to be tailored for such devices.
This means that attracting mobile users and providing a stellar eCommerce UX relies on the implementation of responsive designs that allow visitors to shop without pinching, zooming, excessive scrolling or other frustrating behaviors.
Using Google Search Console’s mobile usability report, merchants can identify any mobile UX problems that shoppers might encounter. Even better, Google will provide actionable insights on how to remedy any such issues.
5. Anticipate Potential Security Issues
While shoppers are busy buying up everything imaginable from eCommerce stores across the web, cybercriminals are keenly aware of the bounty they might receive from hacking a store’s database.
The best defense against malicious cyberattacks is to invest in a variety of security solutions that will help keep your web store and customer information safe during the holidays (and the rest of the year, too).
One of the most prominent types of hacker schemes that eCommerce merchants fall victim to is a DDoS attack. According to Lastline, Inc. CRO Brian Lain, there are two options for DDoS security:
“The first is to use cloud-based applications which can more easily scale up to handle any DDoS attacks. The second option would be to implement a DDoS solution that can protect against both application and bandwidth (packet flooding) attacks…”
This means investing in a DDoS protection software is a wise move. Furthermore, brands should obtain an SSL certificate for secure shopping and prominently display various trust badges to clearly show consumers that their protection is something your brand takes seriously. This will increase their confidence and make them more likely to complete a purchase as security concerns have been quelled.
6. Beef Up Customer Support
Increased holiday traffic also means that there will be a lot more customer questions and concerns to deal with. There will likely be queries about everything from specific products to refunds and exchanges, shipping timeframes and beyond.
One of the best ways to cut down on the number of emails, calls, and chats from questioning customers is to update your FAQ page so that consumers can answer their own inquiries.
However, there will still be a sizable uptick in customer service contact volumes, so you might want to consider adding temporary help for the holidays to deal with the additional calls, emails and other queries coming from live chat, social media and the like.
The holidays are by far the busiest time for eCommerce retailers and their websites need to be prepared for the influx. Start prepping your website now with these six strategies to ensure your store doesn’t go down right when your revenue should be going way up.
While this may seem like a tall order, there are plenty of ways to gain help in optimizing your site from trusted industry experts. You don’t have to manage every aspect of your holiday efforts alone.
Overall, A lot of preparation is involved in optimizing eCommerce stores before the holiday shopping season begins! With many strong expert predictions in favor of heightened online sales and transactions, there is an even greater potential for site crashes and other detrimental issues. Be sure to take the necessary precautions, like checking up on your site security, streamlining your checkout process, and optimizing your mobile experience so you are better equipped for the busy shopping season to come.
With only a few weeks to go before the busy season finally begins, you need to foresee issues before they arise, take a proactive approach to problem-solving, and prioritize your site now to get ready for future traffic to come.
Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.